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Concepts and definitions in population-related agricultural surveys

Concepts and definitions in population-related agricultural surveys

This chapter presents comments and suggestions, including possible gender biases, on the concepts, definitions and classifications used in the national agricultural survey programmes. The comments and suggestions, therefore, focus on how to obtain more adequate gender-disaggregated data.

The agricultural survey concepts, definitions and classifications concerning the agriculture-related population refer to those included in the FAO Programme for the World Census of Agriculture 2000 (FAO, 1995).

The section on economic characteristics incorporates the international standards adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) concerning statistics of the economically active population. It also takes into account the revised International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88) and the revised International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC), Rev. 3.

The concepts and definitions used in the national agricultural census or survey programmes for studying the agriculture-related population should be based on those used for the population and housing census. This is one of the reasons why it is of fundamental importance to coordinate adequately the national population and agricultural surveys.


The household concept is one of the basic elements of a national statistical system. It is extensively used and quoted in this paper for ease of reference and comparison with other definitions used in agricultural and population censuses or surveys.

The definition of household is used in several aspects of an agricultural survey programme. In particular, for the following purposes:

Various household types must be explained, particularly the extended household, because of the possibility of more than one holding per household. The United Nations recommends a household classification based on the family nucleus. The family refers to "those members of the household who are related, to a specified degree, through blood, adoption or marriage." (UN, 1980, p. 72).

A household may contain more than one family. A family nucleus consists of one of the following types (each of which must consist of persons living in the same household):

The following household types are identified:

Head of household

The head of household is the person in the household acknowledged as head by the other members. The head has primary authority and responsibility for household affairs. However, in cases where such authority and responsibility are not vested in one person, special rules may be needed to identify the head of household (UN, 1980, p. 70; FAO, 1995).

The definitions used to identify the head of the household are subject to a certain ambiguity and in some cases tend to exclude women. Precise criteria should be set to avoid arbitrary interpretation on the part of the enumerators and subjective perception on the part of the respondents. In those countries where male migration is relevant, the absence of the head of the household (at the time of the enumeration or within a specified period should also be considered.

Relationship with head of household

It may be necessary to distinguish the household members in relation to the head or other reference member of the household (UN, 1980, p. 71):

The analysis of household composition could be useful to complement the simple tabulation of heads of household by sex and allow a deeper investigation on the roles men and women play in the family and their social and economic responsibilities.

Information collected on the members of the household within specified age limits may include the following:


Age is normally expressed in completed calendar years. An age limit should be set in order to identify the children of the household. Similarly, another age limit should be set in order to identify all elderly and retired persons of the household. These age limits should coincide with those adopted for the population and housing census.


Level of education can be classified as follows:

It should be recalled that in most countries in the region women receive less education than men. Thus, the education level of the agriculture-related population is likely to be distorted if the proportion of women in the survey does not reflect the actual distribution of the population.

Marital status

Marital status can be classified as follows.

The distinction between monogamous and polygamous unions is particularly important in the analysis of the agricultural sector. Polygamous unions affect the way agricultural holdings are organized between husbands and wives, the responsibilities of the members of the household(s) and the general economic conditions.

Agricultural holding and holding parcel

An agricultural holding is an economic unit of agricultural production under single management comprising all livestock kept and all land used wholly or partly for agricultural production purposes, without having regard to title, legal form or size. It includes land rented, land owned and land being effectively used by the management under whatever type of other arrangement. Single management may be exercised by an individual, jointly by two or more individuals, or by a household, clan or tribe, or by a juridical person such as a corporation, religious organization, cooperative or government agency. The holding's land may consist of one or more separated parcels (simple compact blocks of land) located in one or more separate areas or in one or more territorial or administrative divisions, providing the parcels share the same production means utilized by the holding, such as labour, farm buildings, machinery or draught animals.

A holding parcel is any piece of land entirely surrounded by other land, water, road, forest, etc. not forming part of the holding.

Economic units engaged solely in the following economic activities are not considered agricultural holdings because these economic activities are outside agriculture:

Economic units engaged in agricultural services are not considered agricultural holdings. The following additional points relate to the identification of a holding:

Agricultural holdings considered in a survey are defined as those with a minimum size of area, volume or value of production, number of trees, livestock, etc. Such minimum thresholds are established to detect most of the agricultural production of the country, and are determined by operational reasons in order to exclude a large number of "small" holdings.

Holder, hired manager and respondent

The holder is a civil or juridical person who makes major decisions regarding resources use and exercises management control over the agricultural holding operation. The holder decides which crops to plant; when to plant; when to harvest; when to sell livestock; where to sell livestock; and how many to sell, etc. The holder has technical and economic responsibility for the holding and may undertake all responsibilities directly or delegate responsibilities related to day-to-day work management to a hired manager.

A hired manager is a civil or juridical person who takes technical and administrative responsibility to manage a holding on a holder's behalf. Responsibilities are limited to making day-to-day decisions to operate the holding, including managing and supervising hired labour. Payment is generally made in cash and/or kind. Where the hired manager shares economic and financial responsibilities in addition to managing the holding, he or she is usually considered a holder or a joint holder.

The respondent is the person from whom data are collected about the holding. The respondent for an agricultural survey should be the holder or the manager. In cases where the holder may not be available or delegated responsibilities to a hired manager, the hired manager may teethe respondent. When the hired manager is not available, then a person knowledgeable about the holding operations may be a respondent. In this case, the relation of this person to the holder (or household head) may be recorded for further evaluation purposes.

Identification of agricultural holders. Countries should make enumerators aware, especially in households, that the holder is not always the legal owner of the land or the eldest male. The person making the major decisions regarding resource use - deciding what and when to plant, what animals to breed, when to cultivate crops and when to harvest crop or livestock items - may very well be a junior or female member of the household. Identifying the holder on the basis of custom, administrative records or age and sex may distort the final results and lead to an incorrect analysis. Concerning this problem, the different types of holders should be considered: joint holders, joint holders of different sexes, joint households, etc.

Minimum size of holdings. For practical survey purposes, a minimum size limit is adopted to define the holdings. For this reason, in countries in which small holdings have a significant contribution to the total agricultural production, the minimum size for a holding should be carefully defined. In addition, it has been observed in recent agricultural surveys in many countries in the Near East region that most of the holders of small holdings are women, so their exclusion from the surveys creates a gender bias. To overcome this problem, the minimum size limit for a holding should be set as low as practically feasible. In addition, it might be convenient to define, without modifying the established minimum size limits, a second set of agricultural holdings with lower minimum sizes. Such groups of agricultural holdings, which would be excluded from the survey, could be studied through special surveys. This may capture, in particular, a significant percentage of women's participation in agriculture not provided at present by the regular survey.

Rural households and agricultural holdings. The number of households whose members operate separate holdings, or the number of holdings operated by two or more persons belonging to different households, is small but nevertheless exists. When considering the relationship between a household and a holding, it is important to remember that the former is a complex socio-economic unit, while the latter is a simple economic unit. For this reason, when studying the holding related to a rural household, whose head is the holder with some household members participating in the work of this holding, it is recommended to consider:

In some countries there is a close relationship between rural households and agricultural holdings, which can lead to some confusion between the two units. For this reason, the households have often been used to identify the holders and the holdings and, in particular, to identify the holdings without land. The procedure of defining the head of the household as the head of the holding has resulted in the omission of agricultural holdings operated by individuals of the same household and therefore this procedure should not be used. Moreover, such procedures may underestimate the number of women holders because all the holdings operated by members of the same household might be considered as a single agricultural holding, generally held by a man.

Legal status of holder

The term "legal status" is not necessarily confined to the holder's legal characteristics, as it concerns broader aspects for the identification of specific types of holdings. Two types are first differentiated: private and government, and then a further disaggregation of private holders is given. In most cases, the private holder is an individual but there may be more than one holder in a given household, each operating a separate holding. If the agricultural operations carried out and commodities produced by different household members are pooled, it is more practical to treat them as one holding. This condition prevails in some regions as a kind of traditional agriculture. In extended households and composite households it is more convenient to identify several holders. The pooling of various holdings, operated by members of the same household, or the splitting of a household into separate households (each corresponding to one holding), avoids double counting of household members for data collected on the holder's household.

A usual classification for the legal status of the holder is the following:


It is possible that a household member who jointly operates such a holding may also have another holding operated by himself or herself alone.

When two or more individuals of different households jointly operate a holding, they should each be recorded as a joint holder but separate data should be collected for the household of each joint holder.

Juridical persons, such as a corporation or a cooperative, are entities separate from the real persons who form them and they should be defined within the context of national laws and customs. In most countries, joint stock companies constitute typical examples of corporations. Cooperatives include several kinds of organizations in which the principles of individual or joint ownership, or leasehold, are combined to various degrees.

Private holders not specified in any of the classes mentioned should be identified separately. Examples are tribes, clans, private schools and religious institutions other than collective monastic orders or their equivalent.

Government. Government holdings are operated by a central or local government directly or through a special body.

Usually economically active population

The agricultural survey topics on the economic characteristics of the population discussed below concentrate on the population working in the agricultural holdings and take into account the definition of economically active population adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO, 1983, pares 14-20).

Conceptually, the "economically active population" comprises all persons of either sex who provide the supply of labour for the production of economic goods and services, as defined by the United Nations systems of national accounts and balances, during a specified time reference period (UN, I 993). According to these systems, the production of economic goods and services includes:

Production of economic goods and services also includes "own-account construction".

Conforming to the above enlarged concept of production of economic goods and services, to measure the economically active population the concept of "usually economically active population" will be used, measured in relation to the agricultural year (UN, 1990a, p. 9).

The usually economically active population comprises all persons above a specified age whose main activity status, as determined in terms of number of weeks or days during the agricultural year, was "employed" or "unemployed". The employed and unemployed are defined in respect of current activity during the day of enumeration.

The "minimum age limit" for usually economically active persons should be set in accordance with conditions in each country, but never actually higher than 15 years. A lower minimum age limit will normally be desirable in developing countries where younger children usually participate in agricultural work. To facilitate international statistical comparisons, tabulations should distinguish between persons under 15 years of age and those aged 15 years and over. A separate tabulation for persons under ten years of age is recommended in countries where the minimum age limit is below ten years.

In applying the above definitions of "employed" and "unemployed" in respect of the usual activity during the agricultural year, it is necessary to determine the "main activity status" of a person above a specified minimum age.

Two procedures may be followed at the day of enumeration to determine the main activity status of each person. One is to interpret it as the status that prevailed over most of the 365 days of the agricultural year. Another is to set a specific number of days as the cut-off point and classify anyone with at least that many days of economic activity as the "usually active population".

Particular attention should be given to special groups for which the determination of an activity status may be difficult, for example youth, women, especially unpaid family workers, and the elderly. The common notion that women are generally engaged in home-making duties can result in a serious omission with respect to measuring their activity status. Unless enumerators are explicitly instructed or the questionnaires are explicitly designed to ask about the possible economic activity of women, as they do for men, they may tend to classify women automatically as home-makers, particularly if the women are married. This tendency seems to be most pronounced in rural areas where most men are engaged in agriculture and the participation of their wives and daughters as unpaid family workers in agriculture is often overlooked. It can also happen in urban areas where modern economic conditions are rapidly changing the traditional economic role of women (UN, 1990a, p. 9-10).

Employed persons including unpaid family workers

The "employed" comprise all persons above a specified age who, during the day of enumeration, were in the following categories:

The notion of "some work" may be interpreted as work for at least one hour during the day of enumeration.

The following treatment of certain groups of individuals in paid employment or self-employment is recommended:

Unpaid family workers who constitute a subset of employed persons require special mention. The United Nations defines an unpaid family worker as "usually a person who works without pay in an economic enterprise operated by a related person living in the same household. Where it is customary for young persons, in particular, to work without pay in an economic enterprise operated by a related person who does not live in the same household, the requirement of 'living in the same household' may be eliminated" (UN, I 990a, p. 19). Strict application of the minimum working requirement ("at least one third of the normal working hours") for unpaid family workers in agriculture is not recommended; otherwise a large number of people, including many female workers, dividing their working time between study or housework and work on the holding, may be excluded from the economically active population.

Workers on the holding who are members of the holder's household should be included. Each country should determine the minimum requirement for the amount of time worked on the holding by a member of the holder's household during the reference period to determine whether the member should be considered to have "worked on the holding" or not.

Members who worked on the holding are part of the economically active population.

Unemployed persons

The unemployed comprise all persons above a specified age who during the day of enumeration were:

It is consistent with international standards to include as unemployed those persons who are available for work but who are not actively seeking work because they believe no jobs are available.

Not usually economically active persons

The population not usually economically active includes all persons whose main activity status during the agricultural year was neither employed nor unemployed. It comprises the following functional categories:

According to the definition recommended by ILO, an individual should be considered economically active when he or she has worked at least one hour during the reference week. The only "domestic" activities that should not be considered "economic" and therefore identify a home-maker are:

Activities such as gathering wild foods, gathering fuel or fodder, processing crops for preservation or storage, kitchen gardening and collecting water for household use are economic and preclude the individual from being classified as not economically active. In many cases, these activities are not considered as work and this produces distorted results on the role of women in agricultural activities.

To classify a holder's household members into economically active and not economically active, the general principle is that participation in an economic activity should always take precedence over participation in a non-economic activity. For example, students or home-makers are classified as economically active if they participate in an economic activity during the reference period. Similarly, persons receiving pensions consequent to retirement, but who continue working, should be considered economically active.

Whether worked on the holding. The critical issue here is how to formulate the question in such a way that women be recorded as workers. The question (or sequence of questions) should be designed to discourage any tendency to record women as housewives, ignoring their economic activities. Rather than simply asking "did you work on the holding in the past season/year?", the interviewer could give a list of specific activities, tailored to local circumstances.

Whether received any payment in cash or kind. In many countries there are wage differentials between women and men. The problem is especially relevant in agriculture where many women work as unpaid family workers. Information on forms of payment - wages or payment in kind - could help shed light on this aspect of women's work.

Main and secondary occupations

"Occupation" refers to the type of work done during the reference period by the person employed (or the type of work done previously, if unemployed), irrespective of the industry or the status in employment. Occupation normally applies to economically active persons only.

Occupational statistics should be compiled in accordance with the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88) as revised by ILO in 1988 (ILO, 1990).

Where the usually active measure is applied, information on occupation should refer to the type of work done or the job held for the longest time during the agricultural year.

For persons reporting more than one occupation, criteria will have to be established for determining the "main occupation". The decision can, for example, be based on the occupation on which most time was spent during the period or it can be based on the most remunerative occupation.

Main occupation and secondary occupation. A question on the secondary occupation has a twofold objective: it records those situations where the individual is only employed part-time on the holding and has another activity in agriculture or in a different sector; and it helps capture those situations where the woman identifies herself as a housewife (main occupation) and indicates working on the holding as "secondary occupation". This second aspect is particularly relevant to the adequate measurement of women's work. Studies have shown the tendency of women working in agriculture to consider themselves as housewives and to regard activities such as planting and harvesting as housework. Asking specifically about the secondary occupation would probably encourage the respondent to indicate her work other than housework. In the case of a woman working part-time or seasonally on her husband's holding and managing her own holding, she would be recorded as holder (main occupation) and unpaid family worker (secondary occupation) in her husband's holding.

Occupations are classified in ISCO-88 into the following major groups:

Work in agricultural activities is included in major groups 1, 2, 3, 6 and 9 but most persons in rural areas report occupations belonging to major groups 6 and 9. The major groups are divided into minor groups, described in detail in ISCO-88 (ILO, 1990). While assigning detailed occupation coding for occupations according to local conditions, countries are urged to use the minor groups (or subsets of them) in order to provide internationally comparable classifications on agricultural work.

Group 6, Skilled agricultural and fishery workers, includes workers whose "tasks require the knowledge and experience necessary to produce farm, forestry and fishery products" (ILO, 1990, p. 6). These may be further subdivided into minor groups relating to their type of activity.

Group 9, Elementary occupations, covers workers whose occupations require the limited knowledge and experience necessary to perform mostly simple and routine tasks, involving the use of hand-held tools and, in some cases, considerable physical effort and, with few exceptions, only limited personal initiative or judgement. Tasks include: digging and shovelling; loading and unloading; raking, pitching and stocking hay; watering and weeding; picking fruit and other crops; feeding, watering and cleaning animals (ILO, 1990, p. 258).


Industry refers to the activity of the establishment in which an employed person worked during the time reference period established for data on economic characteristics (or last worked, if unemployed).

It is recommended that countries compile the industrial characteristics of active persons according to the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, Rev. 3 (UN, 1990b).

Status in employment

Status in employment refers to the status of an economically active person with respect to his or her employment, that is, whether he or she is employed (or was, if unemployed) as an employer, own-account worker, employee, unpaid family worker or a member of a producers' cooperative, etc., during the time reference period.

For purposes of international comparability, it is recommended that countries compile the data in accordance with the following status in employment classification:

Gender biases have been observed in the estimates of hired agricultural workers.

Permanent agricultural workers on the holding

A permanent agricultural worker is a person whose services are utilized regularly and continuously during the agricultural year for agricultural work on the holding. The total number of days worked during the agricultural year (normally six months or more) distinguishes a permanent worker from an occasional worker in some countries. However, a permanent worker may actually work less than six months during the agricultural year, especially in crop production in countries with one crop season. Countries should determine the minimum number of working days or months in accordance with their particular agricultural and other relevant conditions. Permanent agricultural workers on the holding may engage in other work, especially during periods when no significant agricultural work is undertaken.

Occasional agricultural workers on the holding

An occasional agricultural worker is a person working once or more times during the agricultural year and is not expected to work regularly or continuously on the holding.

Time reference

A time reference is provided for each questionnaire item. The time reference is either the day of enumeration (for inventory items) or the agricultural year (continuing activities). The term "day of enumeration" should be interpreted as the date of the actual interview with the respondent.

The time reference for questionnaire items referring to the number of permanent agricultural workers is the day of enumeration. The time reference for all other questionnaire items related to agricultural workers or employment is normally the agricultural year.

In many countries, sample surveys have identified strong seasonal fluctuations in the amount of time people spend in agricultural activities and have also marked differences by gender. A short reference period is likely to exclude many women from the economically active population, especially where their work is more seasonal than that of men. In order to consider the entire agricultural cycle, the reference period should be one year.

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